Tag Archives: Holocaust

Review: The Nightingale

515p3orn1kl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Viann and Isabelle are two sisters at different points in their lives, who are both dealing with the same struggle: surviving in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Just because they’re not Jewish doesn’t make things any easier. Viann and her daughter are forced to house a Nazi while Viann’s husband fights in the war. While she prays daily for her husband, she also must continue teaching students at school and being the primary support for her Jewish best friend and neighbor. She carries on with her duties while watching her hometown fall apart and witnessing death and destruction.

While Viann tries to get through each day, Isabelle decides she must do something and joins rebel group. She moves back to France to live with her father, with whom she has a tumultuous relationship. After months of passing notes between other rebels, she takes up an even greater cause: saving injured foreign soldiers by leading them through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

The story goes back and forth between WWII and a time 50 years later, when one of the sisters considers returning to France for the first time since the war.

Analysis: As much as I love books, it takes a lot for one to make me cry, and The Nightingale had been sobbing, but not in a depressing way like My Sister’s Keeper, and not in a unnecessarily depressing way like One Day. The ending of The Nightingale was simply so perfect, so beautiful that it brought tears of joy to my eyes in the best way. These sisters suffered through so much and made so many sacrifices. Their lives didn’t go the way they wanted or expected them to, but the way they lived them was worth it in the end. Without giving away too much, it was just beautiful.

The mystery of which sister was telling the story 50 years later kept me turning pages as much as their own individual stories. Even the less interesting sections about Viann cooking dinner were still fascinating because of the greater issues going on around her.

I also loved that this was a Holocaust fiction novel about two non-Jews. It makes it obvious that even for the groups that weren’t targeted, there was still so much pain and anguish, and that’s not something we hear about too often when reflecting on Europe during WWII.

MVP: Isabelle. She received the least amount of love. Her family constantly pushed her away. She never received the support she needed or deserved. And yet, she showed more love, gave more support and exhibited more strength than any of the characters in the novel. She made life possible for so many people, and that cannot be ignored.

Get The Nightingale in hardcover for $16.13. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: The Storyteller

Recap: Sage Singer is perfectly content with her sad, lonely life. Well, “perfectly content” may not have been the right phrase to use. That said, she’s comfortable, working overnights at a bakery, keeping distant from her sisters since their parents died, and sleeping with a man who has a wife and family. But everything changes with Sage meets Josef Weber. He’s not a new love interest. He’s a 90-year-old retiree who lives in her small Rhode Island town and lets Sage in on a secret. He tells her he’s a former Nazi and wants Sage, a Jewish girl, to kill him and end his guilty suffering.

In typical Jodi Picoult controversial-story-content fashion, Sage must decide what to do — whether to assist suicide this reformed Nazi or whether to let him continue his suffering until he eventually dies. As she struggles with the decision, she reaches out to the Department of Justice. Leo is the agent set on helping her uncover Josef’s secrets and prosecute him. In order to do that, she needs the help of a Holocaust survivor. Luckily, Sage’s grandmother, Minka, is such a woman. Minka shares her horrific story in the hopes that it will be enough to convict Josef for all his wrongdoings. But along with the detail-oriented investigation and research lies another issue — time. Will Sage, her grandmother and Leo be able to pull this all together before Josef dies of regular old age?

Analysis: Jodi Picoult does it again — choosing a controversial issue about which to write and finding a way to develop emotionally complex characters. She sticks to the same format as her other books, switching between narrators each chapter. I like that format. It works for her books because it allows the reader to better understand the different sides of each controversial topic. But in The Storyteller, things became muddled in the middle.

The grandmother’s section about her experience in the Holocaust was long and gruesome. It was powerful, and maybe that’s why she chose not to have another character break up the section. But It was so emotionally difficult for me to get through, it would have been nice to have had another characters’ thoughts interspersed there.

The novel was so great, the story so powerful, the pain so excruciating, and then there was the ending. The end was a bit of a shock, but not enough to leave me breathless. It was not as satisfying as it could have been. After all Picoult did to build those characters, all I could do at the end was shrug. And that was disappointing.

MVP: Sage is a mess at the start of the novel. But by the end, she gets it together in the most unlikely of ways. She proves her strength, finds her undiscovered confidence and voice, and she finally does something. Her growth was wonderful to follow.

Get The Storyteller in paperback for $8.51.

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Review: Sarah’s Key

Recap: When Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, is assigned to write an article on the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, she has no idea the assignment will change her life. The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup was a roundup of Jews in Paris by Nazis during the Holocaust. In Julia’s research of the event (which many in Paris choose to forget), Julia comes across the story of a little girl named Sarah, a girl who is round up along with her parents in Paris in 1942. In order to save her brother, Sarah locks him up in a secret cupboard in her house before her family is taken from the home. During her time in the Vel’ d’Hiv, Sarah wonders if her four-year-old brother was ever able to make it out alive. She vows to come back for him as soon as she is released.

As Julia learns more about Sarah and her story, her own life is falling apart. Her French husband may or may not be having an affair, and together, they face a difficult decision.

To top it all off, Julia then learns that her connection to Sarah is much stronger than she ever could have imagined, and it might be too much for her marriage to survive.

Analysis: Sarah’s Key is told in first-person narration, alternating between Julia in present-day and Sarah in 1942. It’s not until much later in the story that the reader is able to make the connection between the two. On the surface, the only thing they have in common is that they both live in Paris.  But as Julia learns more about Sarah, she begins to admire her power and determination to make it out of the Vel’ d’Hiv alive. In fact, Sarah’s story starts to become all-consuming for Julia, yet another thing throwing a wrench into Julia’s life.

When Julia realizes how closely connected she is to Sarah, the rest of the novel is told through her point of view. Suddenly, the reader realizes these two women are more similar than they seem.

Just as Sarah set out on a quest in 1942, Julia now sets out on a quest to find Sarah. There’s a lot of buildup in each of these journeys, and sadly both end in disappointment. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that 10-year-old Sarah has taught 45-year-old Julia something important: work toward what you believe and be brave. This is a powerful story about two women forced to grow up in overwhelming, sometimes traumatic conditions.

MVP: Sarah. Her bravery and determination are astounding, especially for a little girl. It’s Sarah, a girl whom Julia had never met, that pushes Julia to follow her heart and be great.

Get Sarah’s Key in paperback for $10.97.

Or on your Kindle for $8.86.

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